As an evangelical Christian, I hold firmly to the bible’s teaching that we are saved only through faith in Jesus Christ; that simply by trusting in His propitiatory sacrifice on the Cross, we are forgiven our sins and born to eternal life. Call it sola fides, call it fundamentalism, call it by whatever label you like, but it is what the Bible, the true Word of God and the foundational text of Christianity, tells us clearly.
Jesus himself says, the will of his Father is that he who looks upon the Son and believes will be raised to eternal life. (John 6.40) “Looks upon the Son and believes.” Not “looks and believes and does good deeds,” or “looks and believes and is baptized,” but simply “looks upon the Son and believes.” Paul’s epistles, as he writes in the Spirit of God, make it even more plain, stressing again and again across different letters that believers are imparted a righteousness from God that is not of the Law, but is through faith in Jesus Christ. (Romans 3.22)
All you need to do, to be saved into the redemption of Christ, is to put your faith in him, the Son of God. All else will follow once that is affirmed.
Solo Dios basta. When you have Christ, there is no need to put faith in other things. (i.e. good works, prayers to saints or *ahem* mother figures, TV shows by earthly charismatic teachers…) because Christ himself is sufficient and perfect, both to our eternal salvation and to provision for our daily lives.
On the other hand, adherents to a theology of salvation-by-works often refer to the Epistle of James the Brother of Christ, where he says at one point that “we are not justified by faith alone.” (James 2.24) Were we to take this verse at its word by itself, we’d have a quandary on our hands, because not only are we told that we are no longer saved by Christ alone, but there would also be an open contradiction with other Gospels and Epistles which openly state that salvation is through faith and not by works of the law. (Galatians 2.16)
Fortunately, a clear reading of the passage associated with that verse in James makes it clear that good deeds are the necessary completion of faith, and not a source of redemption in themselves. It’s extremely telling that, in their two different letters, Paul and James both make reference to the same event in the book of Genesis: Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac (Genesis 22), and the declaration that Abraham’s belief was credited to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15.6) This is the Bible, the Word of God; these two men, Paul and James,were guided in their writings by the same Spirit, so it is only given that they are in harmony. The fact that both refer to the same story means that they are both expressing the same truth — or, more probably, two like facets of the same truth.
Sure enough, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans makes mention that by believing God, Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness: that righteousness was given him because of his belief in God. (Romans 4.3) James expresses the same thing similarly: that in Abraham’s obedience, even to the point of the near-sacrifice of his dearest son, the prophecy was fulfilled that said Abraham had been credited righteousness. (James 2.23) That is, by putting his faith in God, Abraham was given the righteousness which bore his good works.
There are many ways to say it, but they say the same thing: the righteousness is from God, not from our own actions. And that is in harmony with the doctrine of salvation: it comes only by faith in Christ, and will be completed in works. Not the other way around. The person who understands what faith does to him once he believes, will understand then that the whole issue of “faith and works” is academic, because it is simply given that the one must produce the other.
There is a valuable lesson to be learned here for those who have been saved through their faith in Jesus Christ, but continue to live their lives as though nothing had changed. James says it frankly: Faith without deeds is dead. (James 2.26) If a person has been saved, but he continues to live a life of idolatry and dissipation, then what has he been saved from? What answer will he give when the master asks what has become of the talents given?
But remember the thief on the cross, who, a hardened felon, crucified for his crimes by the Roman state, cried out to the Savior who hung near him, “Jesus, remember me when you enter into your Kingdom!” And just with that, he was saved. “I tell you,” said his bleeding, dying Lord, “today you shall be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23.42-43)
Never mind what your life has been like, whether good or bad. Jesus is your Savior regardless, and the certainty of salvation is given you if you ask him. And it is promised, as James says it was prophesied of Abraham, that you will be credited righteousness, given the ability to do good works, and, at the day of the Lord, to stand before Him, washed clean and spotless without sin.